Political passions in America have boiled into destructive behavior, both verbally and physically. It’s often a challenge to talk politics with someone who has a differing opinion. But lately, it’s almost like we’re on different planets. That’s led to widespread anger, anxiety and downright rage.
And by the day, there seems to be less and less willingness for one side to listen to, and comprehend, the other.
Soltana Nosrati, a psychotherapist with Novant Health Psychiatric Associates in Huntersville, North Carolina, answers questions about how to talk about politics when you strongly disagree with the other person.
What are some tips to avoid a confrontational tone during a political discussion?
I'm a bit of a hothead. I have a temper. One of the best things that I learned is if you are going somewhere where you know some people will agree with you and some people don't, take a few cleansing breaths beforehand.
When someone says something upsetting, pay attention to your body. Almost all of my patients will say they'll feel a sense of being flushed when they get upset. That's when you should go into what I call “control breathing,” and just breathe, breathe.
Another technique I've used to manage my temper is to say to myself “What is this person’s perspective?” Like when someone cuts you off on the freeway, for example, you don't know if their wife just left them or if they found out they had cancer. Challenge yourself to be more respectful, and to think about why they would feel that strongly about a topic or why they would need to hold on to that belief system, even if you have evidence that it's inaccurate.
There is a lot of anger, frustration and rage that’s consuming many people. How can you best control those strong emotions?
You cannot control the way you feel. But, what you do have absolute control over is your behaviors. If you feel anger, acknowledge it, and try to have some compassion in the same way that you would for someone who you really deeply care about. It's the only way you can think clearly and make better decisions. Your behaviors are 100% within your control.
What if you’re in a small group and someone makes a political comment that is completely opposite of what you think. Do I pull them aside to discuss it one-on-one? Do I blurt out my reaction in front of the group? Remain silent?
If it's at work, I would avoid it. But say you're in a small group with friends, then it's OK to express your opinion, but you want to be very careful. Choose your words with respect. If you have respect, you can have opposing
opinions. If they're starting to act out because your opinion differs from theirs, the best option would be to just drop it. Wait until a few days later if you are friends and say, “Hey, you know, you and I don't agree, but that really wasn't necessary.” And sometimes leaving the discussion is a really good idea.
Talk about the importance of listening, instead of cutting someone off in midthought with your reply.
Breathe and try to understand what the person is saying. Focus on their words and on their body language. If you find your brain drifting or jumping ahead, just count to three and take a deep breath. Often, when we cut someone off, we're either cutting them off before they have a chance to actually make a valid point, or we cut them off before they finish making their point, leaving you looking like a fool. It's a good idea to just stay in the moment.
Is it OK to adopt a strategy of never discussing politics, going through life just staying in your silo and never talking about it? Or is that unhealthy?
If it's not important to you, then staying inside that silo is perfectly healthy. But if it's something you do care about, keeping that silo can be a way of repressing the way you really feel, and people tend to develop depression or anxiety when they feel like they're not being heard, or that no one is acknowledging the way they feel. It really depends on whether this particular topic is essential to who you are as a person.
Will the political climate and diverse opinions ever get better in this country?
I think it will, but it's going to require a lot of people focusing back on why they got into it in the first place. We like to joke about politics and politicians and how they don't care, they're big people. Some of them don't, but there's quite a few who do. I have to believe that if I believe in democracy. It's going to require some shoving of egos to the side, so to speak.
Some couples that have been married for 40 or 50 years fight all the time. But, there's an underlying respect there and understanding that they're all working for a common good. It's just how you get there that's different.